Sorry to interrupt my ramblings on the subject of survival but tis the season for thankfulness and I really can’t relate to you all how blessed I am this year until I bring you all up to speed on what’s been happening in the McCauley family for the last 6 months or so. This would’ve been easier if I hadn’t taken a 6 month break in posting huh?
Super girl left college in Minnesota and moved out west to go to a school that had a better program but seeing that the price for out of state tuition is a little expensive she’s decided to work for a year to establish residency. So why is this even remotely interesting? Because to support herself she got a job at the local wind tunnel. Now I know most of you have no clue what the hell that is so I’ll try and explain. A wind tunnel is where skydivers go to practice their free fall skills in a controlled environment without the worry of getting by a planet. The great thing about a wind tunnel is that you can fly for minutes at a time instead of seconds and that makes for faster learning and LOTS OF FUN! (sorry, but I get excited) And why, you still might ask, is this interesting? Because dear reader she get’s to fly in the wind tunnel for free and develop skills in mere months that normally would’ve taken years. And not only that, her family get’s to fly in the tunnel for free as well! (not that I care about such things)
Fast forward to early this month and Cathy and I make the big trip out west to see how our first born is handling living in the big city all alone. We did all the normal stuff parents do when visiting their daughter. Cathy spent three days cleaning SG’s apartment while I spent the same amount of time getting her Land Rover back into some sort of safe driving condition. Did you know that you have to take the grill off to change the turn signal bulbs? Yah, me neither. But the trip wasn’t just helping SG with the little things she’d neglected we did manage to make two trips to see where she works and try out the wind tunnel. I was up first and despite the fact that I’ve been jumping for 30 years and have over 15,000 skydives I still stunk. Indoor skydiving is WAY different than the real thing. In my defense the instructors said that I did better than most skydivers in the wind tunnel for the first time because it’s not the same thing as free fall. Still, I’d hoped I would’ve been a little better than that. But the big story of the day was the show my wife put on. Because despite owning a drop zone, and being married to one of the most amazing skydivers in the the world, (that would be me) she has never jumper out of a perfectly good airplane, or even one of ours. Cathy started out like any other first timer in the wind tunnel but she was doing so good the instructor let go of her and she killed it! No wobbling about, no smashing into the walls, nothing, rock steady. You typically do 2 minutes at a time and by the end of her second round she was doing complete turns and moving back and forth like an expert. SG and I were astonished. Oh and speaking of Super Girl, she’s amazing in the tunnel. I knew her skydiving and dance background would translate perfectly into flying in the tunnel but I had no idea just how good she’d gotten. And yes, this is hard to say, she is better than me in the tunnel, WAY better! Of course she works at the tunnel and gets to fly everyday, but still. Super proud of my girls I am.
If you don’t know what indoor skydiving looks like here’s a little taste. I’m almost as good as these guys. And by almost I mean not at all.
When we last left our super unlucky ferry pilot he’d managed to successfully ditch his stricken aircraft, exit with his life raft, inflate it, and climb inside. This is the absolute minimum a pilot needs to do to survive when he makes a full stop landing on something other than solid surface, i.e. water. Of course where in the world that patch of water is makes all the difference in the…..well….all the difference in the world. there are many stories of pilots ditching in warm waters surviving for weeks with nothing but their underwear and a smile. If, on the other hand, our unlucky pilot finds himself in a somewhat chillier location, say, halfway between Canada and Iceland, in January, he might want his winter wooly’s on. And that’s where the survival suit comes in. Survival suits are full body suits made out of 1/4 inch neoprene and do a REALLY good job of keeping you warm in cold water. Unfortunately they also do a REALLY good job of keeping a pilot hot and sweaty in the cockpit of a small plane. And if you wear a survival suit for 8 hours or so it also has the interesting side effect of making your clothes smell exactly like a combination of wet dog and hockey bag. So to make himself more comfortable, and to allow him to get a few more days out of that pair of jeans he’s wearing, a ferry pilot has a few options.
1. Fly with the suit fully on but un-zipped. Not too risky because all you have to do is zip it up before ditching. This is the method of rookie ferry pilots and really fat guys who can barely get the suit on while standing on the ramp because it’s still hot and uncomfortable and it’s also really difficult to fly an airplane that way. Ever tried to change radio frequencies while wearing oven mitts?
2. Wear the suit pulled down to your waist. Slightly more risky because in the event of a sudden emergency a pilot might have his hands full controlling the plane while simultaneously getting his suit pulled up over his shoulders at the same time but for most pilots it’s doable.
3. Have the suit un-rolled on the pilot’s seat and just sit on it. This is pretty risky because performing the cockpit yoga required to squeeze yourself into a tight rubber suit in a tiny cockpit while getting everything you need to get done in a ditching situation, controlling the airplane, fixing your position, screaming for help on the radio, panicking, (don’t forget panicking) can be difficult. But not impossible, especially if you have enough time. And by time I mean altitude. Whenever I fly over the ocean at altitudes higher than 10,000 feet the first thing I do is strip off that damn rubber suit and sit on it because even if the engine stops making noise I’ve got over 20 minutes before splash down and it only takes me 2 seconds to get it back on. How do I know it only takes me 2 seconds you ask? Because the engine skipped a couple of beats while I was smack dab over the middle of the Atlantic ocean on only my second ferry flight ever. I don’t actually remember putting the suit on. All I know is that one second I was flying along fat dumb and happy and the next I was fully encased in orange neoprene, staring at the engine gauges and praying. Panic does have its uses.
4. Leave the suit in the back seat. Really risky because of all the reasons I listed in option 3 plus you have to reach behind you, dig out the bag the suit comes in, take the suit out of said bag, unroll the suit get on the seat under you, and then try to do the yoga trick of getting a rubber suit on over your clothes in a tiny cockpit. Although it would seem that only a moron would leave the suit in the bag and in the back seat, and I have seen such morons, I sometimes do it myself but only if I’m flying a cabin class aircraft that I can stand up in like a King Air or a Grand Caravan and even then only if I have a co-pilot to fly the plane while I get ready to ditch.
The nest thing to think about is what you’re going to wear under the survival suit. Most pilots I talk to don’t think about this at all. their thinking is that because the suit makes them hot in the cockpit it should do just fine in the water or life raft. That thinking is true to some extent. If you’re only in the water for a short time you should be fine, even in vary cold water. But what if you have to wait for hours or days for rescue? When I did my training in the cold water off Iceland we were in the water for only 30-45 minutes and I was already getting cold, especially my feet. When I fly over cold water I wear a good quality base layer of long underwear in addition to the rest of my cold weather gear and always at least have a second pair of good socks to put on before climbing into the suit. This extra layer would also come in handy if you’re forced down on land in the winter and a post crash fire prevents you from grabbing additional clothing to help keep you from freezing to death. Something to consider when flying over northern Canada or Greenland’s ice cap in January.
OK, so there you are, safe and sound in your 10 man life raft and snug as a bug in your gumby suit. Guess what? you’re not out of the woods yet.
Ocean survival course in Iceland.
No need for a life jacket if you’re wearing a Gumby suit.
OK class, now that you’ve all had a chance to read and discuss the ditching story I’ll add my two cents. (because that’s all it’s worth)
A lot of pilots, myself included, don’t really take seriously the possibility of having to ditch when they fly over the ocean. Which in one way is not surprising because of you really thought that there was a good chance of ending up in the drink you’d have to be a certain kind of crazy to do it in the first place. Most ferry pilots lie to themselves when justifying their decision to fly a small plane over a big pond. They tell themselves things like: “The airplane doesn’t know it’s over water” “I’ve done this many times and never had a problem before.” “The government wouldn’t let us do it if it wasn’t safe” and “I’ve got hundreds of hours in small piston aircraft and have never lost an engine.” I can’t use the last one because in 7000 hours I’ve lost three piston engines in flight, the last one just last year over a combination of desert and water, at night.
Good thing I had two engines that night. Dropping oil pressure and rising oil temp = BAD
If a ferry pilot is going to be honest with himself he has accept the fact that there is a real chance that he might go down on every flight. Most pilots just sort of half heartedly give a nod to their survival equipment and how they would really use it in an emergency so I’m going to touch on a few items I bring with me and hope never to use.
THE LIFE RAFT
Like the guys who went down on the way to Hawaii most, but not all, pilots flying over the ocean carry a raft with them. But most of them don’t really have a plan or training on how to use one. There are some basic things to consider when it comes to rafts. Number one is what kind of raft are you going to bring? When I first started ferry flying my boss at Orient Air had a whole locker of rafts that us pilots could choose from and most of us grabbed the smallest one available. why? Mostly because when you were done delivering the plane you had to shlep a ton of crap back to Minnesota with you. Survival suit, life raft, HF radio, ferry tank fittings and hoses, spare tools, any other survival gear you brought with you, not much back then, and then of course all your clothes you brought with for two weeks on the road. Dragging all that stuff through airports, hotels and taxies was a pain in the ass so you cut down on space and weight where ever you can. But when I finally saw exactly how small and flimsy the supposedly 4 man raft I’d been carrying for years was I was really glad I didn’t have to use it. Hell, the damn thing didn’t even have a cover on it. That raft might be OK in the Caribbean but worthless in the north Atlantic. Now I choose the biggest one I think I can get out of the plane with, usually a 6 man with a cover. Next thing to think about is where is it going to be in the cabin during flight. Where are you going to put it when you have to ditch, what’s going to happen to the raft when you experience the sudden stop of hitting the water at 80 knots? Where is it going to go? If you’ve ever been in a car accident you know that everything that used to be in the back seat is now in the front. I call it the “snow globe effect.” If you do manage to find the raft you still have to get out of the plane how to get out of the plane with it. Remember, the plane might be sinking, in heavy seas, upside down, at night. did you remember to prop open the door before ditching? what if you have to kick out a window (very hard to do) do you try to hold it by its sides as you wiggle out? Put your hand through the tether and risk accidentally deploying it before you’re completely clear of the fuselage? Tough questions because if you loose it you’re dead.
If you do manage to find the raft and get out of the plane with it do you know how to inflate it? When are you going to inflate it? How are you going to hang on to it after it’s inflated? because if you let go of it and it drifts even a few feet away you will never catch it, even if you’re Mark Spitz (yes, I’m that old). OK let’s say you do everything right, do you know how to get into the raft? Do you know if your raft has a rope ladder hanging under the door? I didn’t. How about if you’re injured? Can only use one arm? Most pilots never even think about these things let alone get proper training in real world conditions using the real thing. Luckily I’ve been through survival suit and life raft training twice in Iceland. And just to make things as realistic as possible I did it in the middle of winter, both times, not my first choice.
Not as easy as it looks. Actually it’s pretty damn hard.
Ok, so you managed to survive an ocean ditching in a fixed wing aircraft, found your raft, managed to hang on to it as you got out of the sinking upside down death trap, inflated it without letting go and somehow dragged you waterlogged rear end inside like a dead fish. CONGRATULATIONS! You are now stranded in a small rubber raft, thousands of miles from land or any hope of rescue. Wet, cold, and alone. So what’s next?
I know I’ve written many times about how I prepare to survive landing an airplane someplace other than an airport but a few upcoming ferry flights had me going over my survival kit and researching better ideas or gear that might come in handy if I ever find myself up the creek. For those of you who are coming late to the party I’ll try and bring you up to speed. As an international ferry pilot I’m often flying questionably maintained aircraft thousands of miles to destinations all over the world and on really long trips I could potentially go down and find myself battling for survival in any one of a dozen different climates and or echo systems, such as; huge boreal forrest, arctic tundra, alpine/mountains, Greenland’s massive ice cap, freezing cold northern oceans, boiling hot southern oceans, triple canopy rain forrest, desert, swampland, savanna/grasslands, and down town Detroit. On my recent trip delivering a Cessna Grand Caravan from St. Paul, Minnesota USA to Singapore I flew over and had to be prepared to survive in….hmm, let’s see……all of them. Except Detroit. I don’t fly anywhere that place, too dangerous. So you might ask “Hey Kerry, how do you prepare for all those potential situations when you are flying a small plane with limited space and weight available to devote to survival equipment?” And I might reply “That’s a good question.” I might have been tempted to answer ‘Very carefully” but that might give you all the impression that I have it all figured out but that isn’t the case. At all. Before I get into the nuts and bolts of my survival kit I’m going to give you a link to a story of two pilots that were forced to ditch in the ocean after engine problems forced them down short of Hawaii. The account is filled with mistakes that both the pilots and the Coast Guard made and it’s just pure luck that they didn’t turn into fish food. I’ve talked personally to pilots who’ve ditched and read every account of ditching I can find to try and learn from their mistakes because I spend long hours looking down at the big blue and it doesn’t look like a friendly place at all.
A Long Wet Night
|The following narrative was compiled from separate phone interviews with the pilot, Ray Clamback and the co-pilot, Dr. Shane Wiley, who graciously and very frankly shared their experience to benefit others, the pilots of the U.S. Coast Guard C-130s involved in this SAR case, email exchanges with Clamback’s partner Aminta Hennessy, official USCG reports, an article in the FAA Aviation News authored by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Hedaa, and news accounts of the incident. With the exception of the initial departure time, all times are Hawaii time.
|UPDATE October 8, 2004: Ray survived two subsequent ditchings, the latest on October 5, 2004, enroute from Hawaii flying a Cessna 182. He is reported in the media to be considering retiring from ferrying aircraft.|
Just minutes after the sun peeked over the horizon, Ray Clamback pushed the throttle forward and the shiny new single-engine Piper Archer III accelerated down the runway at Santa Barbara (California) Municipal Airport (KSBA), lifting off at 6:31 am on the morning of November 20, 1999. Turning to a course of 234 degrees and climbing slowly to 6,000 ft., Ray headed for DINTY intersection, his first checkpoint on the way to Hilo, Hawaii, 2060 nautical miles distant over the blue Pacific Ocean. The extra fuel on board put him right at the allowable 10% over gross weight and it was a slow climb to cruise altitude.
Ray was flying from the right seat, as is his habit on ferry flights. With over 10,000 hours instructing in light aircraft and over 150 ferry flights under his belt, at least 120 across this same route from the U.S. to Australia, the 62-year-old Aussie pilot noted he “is more comfortable flying from the right seat than from the left…and besides, that’s where the door is.” Accompanying him on this flight was 51-year-old instrument-rated private pilot Dr. Shane Wiley, back flying again after a long hiatus and looking forward to a flying adventure. He didn’t know it yet, but he was about to get a bit more adventure than he bargained for.
Ray had picked up the new Archer from the factory in Vero Beach, Florida, just three days earlier, putting 18 hours on the 180-horsepower, four-cylinder Lycoming 0-360 engine during the two-day solo cross-country. Another 2.1 hours were accumulated in a test flight to Los Angeles picking up Shane the day before, after the ferry tanks and temporary autopilot installations and first oil change were completed. The engine still hadn’t used a drop of oil.
Passing DINTY, Ray turned a few degrees right to 238 degrees which put him on the great circle track to FITES intersection, off the coast of Hilo. He had programmed the Garmin 430 (GPS) with the flight plan, now it was time to settle back and relax as the Archer droned toward Hilo at a steady 125 knots, about 140 kts. ground speed with a light tailwind. After a while Ray turned over piloting duties to Shane and nodded off.
Shane dutifully monitored the flight’s progress on the Garmin’s moving-map display, as the auto-pilot maintained heading and altitude, keeping a watchful eye on the engine instruments. Every ten minutes he’d log temperatures and oil pressure. “They didn’t vary by even the slightest amount,” Shane recalled.
Watch That Oil Pressure
Ten hours into the expected 17-hour flight Shane noticed the oil pressure had dropped, “though it was still in the green, it was quite a bit lower. I shook Ray awake and told him the pressure had dropped, and we were then both very wide awake as he looked at the gauges.” Shane remembers then that they “monitored the oil pressure for about fifteen or twenty minutes when the oil pressure dropped again and we knew then we really had a problem.” As Ray recalls it, they monitored the oil temperature and considered their options, “and within four to five minutes the pressure dropped again to the bottom of the green. At that point I didn’t wait, immediately called guard (emergency) frequency, 121.5 MHz, ‘anyone on guard, this is November four one four eight x-ray (the aircraft’s registration or “tail” number), I’ve got decreasing oil pressure and need assistance. I’d like the Coast Guard notified as soon as possible'” and then gave his position–longitude and latitude. “The frequency lit up with replies, which was very reassuring.” Ray also had an Iridium satellite phone with him, as back-up, but years of experience had taught him that a call on 121.5 MHz would likely do the job and that was far easier and quicker. Read More: A LONG WET NIGHT
As you all know I’ve things slide for a few months so I’m going to try and catch up.this spring number one son’s skydiving career really took off. (sorry) He came out to the drop zone almost every day and quickly built up a reputation as a good skydiver and better yet a great kid to hang out with. After getting his A license his next challenge was to get his coach rating. A coach rating allows you to just mp with and teach students that have been cleared to jump solo by the free fall instructors but do not yet have their license. The problem was Connor needed 100 jumps to be eligible to take the rating course and by the time the annual course started he only had…well, let’s just say less. That’s where being the drop zone owner came in handy. I was sure that the boy would make a fantastic coach so I pulled the evaluator aside and told him to give my son the rating or I’d fire him. OK, I didn’t quite do that but I did get him in the course early and he rocked it. Connor spent the rest of the summer teaching students and jumping for fun. Well, it was mostly fun, except for his first malfunction.
It happened while I was on the same airplane taking a tandem student for his first jump. The free fall was over and the two of us were flying the parachute back to the landing area. I happened to look down and saw an all yellow reserve canopy so I knew someone had had a malfunction. I located the rest of the skydivers and came up on son short so I was pretty sure that it had been Connor who’d had the cutaway. I pointed the emergency canopy to my student and told him what it was. He was dually impressed, even more so when I told him that the jumper with the malfunction was my son. What had happened was when Connor opened his parachute it developed line twists, that’s what we call it when the lines get all twisted up, hence the name. Unable to kick himself out of the twists and spiraling towards the ground Connor had no choice but to pull his cut away handle and pull his reserve. Now Connor is a fast learner and has been around skydiving his whole life o he knew how hard it is to find a parachute after you cut it away, particularly if it landed in the corn, where his brand new canopy was heading, so he did what any heads up skydiver would do, he followed it down and landed in the corn next to it. At least that was his plan.
There are a few mistakes a skydiver can make when cutting away from a malfunction.
Panic: or should I say. PANIC!!!!!
You should be opening your main parachute by at least 2500 feet( if you have a “D” or “Master” license) this should give you at least 10 seconds to deal with anything unusual or problematic. That is plenty of time to cutaway your malfunctioning main and open your reserver canopy with plenty of extra feet to spare. Remember any extra altitude below an open reserve is just wasted!
Connor was open under his spinning main canopy by 3000 feet. He tried to fix it for a few seconds (with a few choice words thrown in for good measure) before pulling his handles, just like I taught him.
Pulling your reserve handle before cutting away the malfunctioning main:
If you do this you dump your reserve into the malfunction which is what we call BAD. Connor didn’t do this incredibly stupid thing so he got to move on to…
Dropping your handles:
When you pull the cutaway and reserve handles they come completely free, and if you drop them gravity takes over and they have a tendency to go down. This can be a problem when you are still a few thousand feet in the air because they are impossible to find and cost about $175 or more. Each. I’m sorry to report that Connor dropped his reserve handle, but seeing I dropped my reserve handle on my first cutaway I’ll give him some slack. (still disappointed though)
Not following or at least keeping an eye on your gear:
When you cutaway a malfunctioning parachute it also goes down and seeing it can cost up to $3000 you really want to keep track of where it lands. Ideally if you can you land next to it so as to avoid many hours searching the corn but failing that you should at least have an idea of where to look. Connor’s only cost $500 but he did a good job and circled it under his reserve planning to land right next to it, just like to pro’s do. But he screwed it up, which leads to the next thing you can do wrong when cutting away from a malfunction.
Landing next to your gear but screwing it up:
Ideally you land next to your gear, gather it up, walk out to the road and wait for a ride. But that’s hard to do if you screw up the landing and hurt yourself. Landing next to your gear is a pretty bad ass thing to do. But if your skills at landing in some random location on the spur of the moment don’t match your balls things can get painful. Luckily all that Connor did was to get a little slow and stall his reserve canopy just before landing. Oh wait, that was the stupid part. The lucky part was that he did it over thick tall corn. Which leads me to the last mistake you can do when cutting away from a malfunction.
Screwing up on video:
Now I’ll admit that the boy did a pretty good job on his first major malfunction. Hey, He jumped out of a plane at 14,000 feet, did a shit hot skydive, had a spinning malfunction, dealt with it, landed next to his gear, and walked out to the road with it with a smile on his face. Unfortunately we still get to critique his landing.
The ride to the airport the next morning was an eye opener. The night before we could tell that the city we were driving through was not what you would call cosmopolitan but in the daylight it was even worse. Everywhere you looked you saw nothing but extreme poverty. Garbage was everywhere and thousands of shoe less and shirtless young men waded through the knee deep flood waters brought by the annual monsoon rains, dodging old trucks, buses, rickshaws, tuck tucks, (the little three wheel smokey taxis) Almost nothing was new and shiny and everyone was wet. The sobering ride was capped off by the most tragic sight I’ve ever seen. We came up to another endless pile of garbage and in the middle of it was a naked man squatting on his heels and staring off into the distance. As we passed him I could tell that he wasn’t reliving himself, he was just sitting there with a completely blank look on his face. I realized that I was looking at someone who’s life score was zero. The man had nothing, no clothes, no possessions, nothing, not even a grain of rice. Yet somehow he’d managed to survive, so far. As we left him behind I looked at Stuart and asked if he’d seen the man. He had and I could tell that the sight had affected him as well. I’ve seen sights like that all over the world and it never fails to remind me just how lucky I am.
The flight to our next stop in Thailand was a hazy, cloudy, misty, foggy mess. The entire area seemed like a big damp sponge but there were no thunderstorms so I was happy. That is until we crossed into Burma/Myanmar. Usually when you cross into another country you are handed off to that country’s air traffic control center and crossing into Burma was no different except that when I tuned into the new frequency I was surprised to hear the controller speaking a foreign language. Now it’s not uncommon for a foreign controller to speak his or her native language to a pilot who’s a fellow native. But this guy was speaking some strange language to English speaking pilots. As I waited for a break in the constant radio traffic I realized that the controller was actually speaking English! His accent was so bad that I couldn’t understand him at all and when I finally got a chance to report my position his replay was incomprehensible. The conversation that followed was so frustrating that I can’t do it justice. The bottom line was that I was routed almost one hundred miles out of my way and only saved when another controller took over and allowed me to point the Caravan in the right direction.
The rest of the trip was pretty routine. We dropped Jack off in Thailand and spent the night at his beautiful home before continuing on to Singapore. The last day was perfect for flying which was almost a let down after the challenges we’d overcome on our half way around the world trip. I tried to get Stuart to wring out his new plane a bit, you know steep banks, stalls, wing overs, because the next time he flew it I wasn’t going to be there to keep him out of trouble. Also, the best way to get used to a new aircraft is to see just what she can do, you know, push the envelope a bit. I called ATC and asked for a slight deviation around a build up and after receiving permission told Stuart to point directly at a big billowing cumulus cloud a few miles ahead of us. I wanted Stuart to fly as close to the cloud as he could before banking away sharply. (when I mean sharply I mean about a ninety degree bank) then when just clear of the cloud bank back the other way in a bank that was just as steep. The object of the lesson was to really get to know what your aircraft can do because someday you just might need to do something other than a nice easy standard rate turn. But alas Stuart wasn’t having any. His turns were nice and smooth and boring. I tried a few more times to get him to really put it over but he just kept flying nice and smooth and mellow. Oh well.
Stuart’s landing at Singapore was the best of the trip, only a small bounce, giving me hope that he might be able to handle the big old Caravan all by himself. Stuart asked me if I needed a night’s rest in Singapore before flying home but I assured him that I’d be OK just hopping on a plane and heading home. It would’ve been fun to spend the night but I’ve been to Singapore before, it was at Halloween, so hard to beat that party, and there was no reason to make Stuart pay me for another day and the cost’s associated with that. So after a grand total of six hours on the ground I was on the way home with another half way around the world trip under my belt and a nice tip in my pocket (thanks Stuart!) Before leaving Stuart told me that he was moving to the US next year and he’d be calling me to help him fly the Caravan back again. I told him that we’d have to take the route through Russia so that we’d make it a complete around the world trip. How many guys can say that? He looked dubious but I’ll talk him into it.
The final push.